On Monday and Wednesday I talked a bit about the trope of generational sins and how descendants are sometimes held responsible for things that happened before they were born. I don’t have personal experience with feeling guilty for anything my parents or grandparents did, so I can’t really speak to that. I think the idea of being held responsible for something done before you were born isn’t as much of a thing for people born in modern day as it may have been in the past.
However I do hear a lot of people talk about race or affirmative action policies and such in those terms, and I have to disagree. And here’s why.
My husband and I get by, but we’ve had some major money struggles in the past when the business we both worked for went under. My mom (and his) helped get us through and now we’re stable. We’re not exactly where we want to be money wise yet, but there’s every hope we can get there by the time my daughter grows up. Also because of my mom, my daughter has everything she could ever think of needing/wanting. Where we can’t splurge, my mom can, so my daughter has every possible advantage.
My mom wasn’t always in a position to help others as much as she’s helped us. When I was two my dad died and we were in incredibly dire straights financially. We moved back in with my grandparents and with their help, my mom was able to finish school to get the job she has today that allows her to help us to the extent that she does.
My grandparents were able to help her because they were stable. They were born at the tail end of the depression and worked hard. My grandfather got a job at IBM, my grandmother at sears. I’m willing to wager they had help from their parents if they ever needed it.
If you move one piece of that support net, my life would look very different. I don’t know what my husband and I would have done without my mom. I honestly don’t. My mom doesn’t know what she would have done without her parents. She couldn’t have finished school without them. She couldn’t have the job she does now without them. We owe them everything. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does by stability, not just for yourself but for your children. We are where we are today because we had a support net that went back generations.
Not everyone has that. Not everyone can. Not because didn’t work hard. Not because they made mistakes. But because the same opportunities that existed for my grandfather didn’t exist for everyone back in the forties and fifties. They just didn’t. That’s not opinion, that’s fact. And that doesn’t make me guilty for something my ancestors did forever ago, but I can’t just pretend I don’t benefit from it either. I can’t pretend like I’m somehow better or more deserving when I’m actually just lucky.
Everyone needs a stable foundation to build on because at some point in your life, no matter who you are or what you do, something, death, the economy, medical expenses, natural disasters, something is going to shake you to the core. And without that foundation, those tremors can completely topple everything you have, leaving you right back where you started. And until everyone has the same opportunity to build that foundation and get a few generations of stability under their belt, nothing is ever going to improve.