Family Dynamics Series: A First Daughter’s Struggles to Find Her Place

What happens when the first daughter of a family who takes care of her siblings gains entrance into a boarding and has to leave home? This week’s episode is the illustration of what poverty, instability in the home, family enmeshment and parentification does to a young woman trying to find her place in the world. The episode is based on the New York Times article by Andrea Elliot titled “When Dasani Left Home: What happens when trying to escape poverty means separating from your family at 13?


  • It is not easy breaking away from intergenerational patterns
  • Even with a strong will to do different, it is hard to do so without adequate support
  • Parentification has consequences
  • Dasani has a chance for a better life
  • The burden and guilt of being the first in the family to…
  • Miriam’s analysis of this article
  • And more…


New York Times Article

Book about Dasani’s story: Invisible Child


Miriam is a Certified Trauma Informed Coach, an African, a mom of three daughters, a blogger and writer.  After graduating from the London School of Economics, she built her international career in the fields of banking and international development, working for organisations such as the World Economic Forum, Lombard Odier Private Bank, JP Morgan, the Mastercard Foundation and the United Nations. She now uses her passion for psychology and dedicates her time to coaching others to free themselves from the burden of childhood trauma.  Her wish to help other women connect to their inner wisdom, love themselves and follow their passion. In her effort to destigmatize mental health and normalize mental health conversations in black communities, she wrote her memoir about surviving childhood and finding her worth.  


Instagram: @_miriamnjoku/



CLUBHOUSE: @miriamnjoku.

#overcomingyourstory #overcomingyourstorypodcast #family #intergenerationaltrauma #safety #childhood #gaslighting #boundaries #space #awareness #familydynamics #poverty #parentification #enmeshment #mentalhealthwellness #family #loyalty #familybond #familydynamics #toxicfamily #africa #nigeria #ghana #kenya #cameroon #community #violence #fear # #home #mentor #selfdiscovery  #shame #guilt


Hello, dear listeners Hello everyone. Today's episode will be a bit different. It's kind of an illustration of the topics I've been covering in the last episode. It's about family dynamics. And in the podcast in general, I found this article in The New York Times titled when Dasani left home, what happened and subtitle what happens when trying to escape poverty means separating from your family at 13. So this is this is an African American family living in Brooklyn, and the daughter, Dasani, the eldest child, leaves home, so she lives in a homeless shelter. And she goes to a school kind of like a boarding school. And yeah, so it's this story, I think it illustrates really well. Parentification, intergenerational trauma and the consequences, right. I just felt it was good to, you know, bring some kind of like a practical story, and share that on the podcast, I had to check copyright rules on how to share a story on a podcast. So are we I will not read the article per se. I will share what I got from the article and give my comments. I will tell it in a different order than how I read it just to illustrate the intergenerational trauma. I will start the story for generations back when the protagonist of the article, Dasani coats, when her great grandfather came back from the Second World War. So her great grandfather, a black man had had been to Europe to fight in the American army. So when he came back, he did not benefit from all the benefits that other veterans received. So there was this bill called the GI Bill that lifted many veterans into middle class because they gave them money to start businesses go to school, like they give them lots of things to start their life, when they came back from the war, and black people were mainly excluded from this GI Bill. So that's the onset already four generations back of the Sonny story because her great grandfather, Sykes, came back from the war and moved to New York and Saturday in Brooklyn. And all he could find was like cleaning jobs. And they said he did like 30 low cleaning jobs in his life. And his fifth child, Jones, the son, his grandmother had a daughter and she was already addicted to crack cocaine. So in for many years, the black community was plied with crack cocaine, and many people became addicted. It was really a war on black communities. So yeah, so the grandmother, Jones was addicted to crack cocaine and had a daughter Chanel. And Chanel is the son, his mom. So at two years of age, Jones sent Chanel to live with her father and her father's new wife. Because she was in the throes of addiction, she couldn't really take care of the child. And I think around the same time, Shannon's father died on a building site accident. So the stepmothers t capture now and try to to protection from the grandmother's influence since she was addicted. But you know, it's it's Chanel is a small child at that point I needed and even in those early years needed her mother. So even though the step mother would try to take her to a more like a better environment for her, she's to always came back to her mother, and things like that. So that's how Shannon, the mother grew up. At one point, I think the stepmother arranges for Shannon to go to Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, but she missed her mother too much. So she came back to New York and went to live with the mother in a homeless shelter. And so that's how Chanel grew up on and then she dropped out of high school as a teenager, joined the gang and got addicted to crack cocaine. And 23 years of age she had Dasani so the girl of this article, now we're in present day for generations or past. So she had the Sanja 23 and 11 months later had another baby aveanna and had 60 Join in tota.

And then, so after after she had the Sonia and aveanna, the their father left to the separator with the Father. And then she she met Supreme, the stepfather of the two, and I think they see had four other children and soprema thing had to get sold eight kids in general, to adults and supreme had got gone through a lot of trauma himself. So two adults, eight children living mostly in homeless shelters, even though Chanel who had so many kids because she grew up so lonely. She wanted to have a family of her own. Even though Chanel and supreme wanted to create a family unit, like they didn't have themselves. They were caught up by their demands in that they they were addicted to drugs, or they were on and off drugs. Or how do they call it administration of Children Services ACS would take their kids away, they would lose custody of their kids regain custody again. Yeah, many, many issues. So in that setup, Dasani. She's like, that's where the parentification piece comes in. She knew how to change diapers before she went to kindergarten. Can you imagine that's very young. So she would take care of all her siblings speaking up after them just being kind of a mini adult. So she grew up with that rule. But at the same time, she was really a fighter, so she fought with other kids outside. And her mom was very proud of that the principal didn't understood the assignee. The principal said, it's because she has too many responsibilities that she's so angry. She's so feisty, she fights with other kids and stuff. And so so that's how it comes out. Right? So at one point, the principal has a wonderful idea. So she finds there's this school so there's this chocolate in the US that is very popular Hershey chocolate. The guy who created Hershey chocolate, died in 1945, a billionaire and he didn't have children and put all his billions into a school to educate children that come from poverty because he himself went to a lot of poverty as a child. So so there's this school in Pennsylvania. Where has the chocolate is from? Hershey, Milton's cool. So like they select, you have to apply and then they select you there, you go there, you live there, they take care of you in every way. And then if you don't drop out, and you finish up to high school, they give you a font of like, $96,000 to go to university, but most kids drop out because they really come from difficult backgrounds, right? But if you if you hold the course and you finish, you get that so the principal suggests to Dasani to apply to that school and go there so that I would change our future path and everything. She did apply, and she got in she was so happy and yeah, she was really scared of leaving home. leaving her siblings She said she's never she's always been with her family, families, everything for her and stuff stuff stuff. So she goes to the school. And so at first it's really hard because they had this like separation plan where they really want the child to be like integrating in this school. And so they make like a clear cut. I think in the first weeks, they went they were like one phone call a week to her family and things like that was really kind of really strict. And there she doesn't feel comfortable. She feels that she has to betray who she is. She equates learning Standard English to, to speak in white. So for her like to, to learn to speak Standard English, was speaking wide. So but she said graduates, middle school is at secondary school for non Americans middle school and goes into the high school program. So she then but at first after like, two months in high school, she goes back home, and she to visit her family and everybody out all of them. Tell her Oh,

you've changed because of the way she was speaking. She was correcting everyone the way they spoke. Has he been just found that she had changed. She didn't want to pick up after them anymore. They had dinner and she cleaned her plate. And then she decided to teach everyone how to fold their clothes because that's what she was taught at school, so her siblings were like were all Dasani did everything for us picked up after us new design. It only takes care of ourselves. So but after after, like if you not long she started speaking like them again. So they felt a bit more comfortable. And if she started high school, and then she was in second year of high school, and she didn't have like she had like two years to go or something. But then what happened is that her mom and stepdad, they, they were on drugs again. So they took away all the kids. And they broke down, they put them into foster care. And they they separated them bypass, you know, and people from that administration for Children's Services came to the school to tell Dasani what had happened and things like that. And from there, her life just went down here, that poor woman, her life just went down here in the fact that she felt so much guilt being in that school. And then she equated that, because she left home and went to the school, it broke up her family that it's hard fought if she, she, she, she tells a journalist in one of the interviews that when I was home, they dated my brothers that we know they will lose our home No, and things like that. It's because she went away that all of that happens so she felt like a lot of guilt. And, and, and also she was having more and more problems at school. She didn't she still felt as if she she had to speak like a white person to be accepted. She didn't feel she felt out of place that she felt at home in New York and there she didn't she felt really out of place. Everybody telling her how to hold her how to eat how to speak everything. Nothing is okay, right. She kept getting into fights like serious fights, getting punished puts put away. Yeah, counseling and many things trying people like they try to give her find ways to to help her. And then they enrolled her mom in trying to help her understand that her behavior is not okay. She has a beard insurance stuff. But her mom was not really helpful in that like when she would call and then after like she had gotten in a fight and then they would tell her mom to tell her certain things. Why it's not okay to fight and this and that. And then her mom would be like, yeah, you find like a man like super proud of her. She wouldn't she didn't say she was proud. But you know, she would say yeah, you know, you're you're you're stronger than most guys out there because you fight like man. They don't I said like with pride and stuff. So anyways, she kept fighting on tea. She got expelled from the school, so she had to go back to New York at 15. And it was really very sad because there was no home to go back to. There was nothing all her siblings were split with different people. When she got back to New York, her one of her brothers was in prison. All of the others were scattered around. Her mom understood that they were in like a rehab program for drug addicts. So yeah, so she hadn't she entered foster care at 15 got into a gang. And yeah, had lots of issues with the law. But she kept trying and trying and thanks to a mentor. She eventually graduated high school which was a first because neither her grandmother her mother or even her great grandmother had graduated high school it was a first in their family that someone graduate high school and she did it she graduated high school and she enrolled in the in the community college in Business Administration, so despite it all she's trying, she's doing, she's doing something right she I know it's a it's kind of a sad story. But you know, it's her path. It's how we she had certain things to learn.

So now I want to give you some comments about about this. The parent ification this young child went through, didn't leave her the space to develop herself to get the skills to manage her emotions or she didn't have time too busy to, to emerge taking care of her mother's feelings. She kept saying at the end of the article that it might look like self sabotage that she got kicked out of that school, that she she did it for her family. Her family is too important. Her mom was not ready for her to go away. And things like that. And then you see in that all these comments are she's the child but she speaks like the parent. She speaks as if her mom Chanel was was was hard like they had inverse. Like the that's the parent ification the Rosa invest, because she her mom should be the one worried about her going away not how worried about, about going away leaving her siblings leaving her mom, how would her mom cope and things like that. So she had already carried on that parent defied try rule so well, that she couldn't even see her own self or her own future. Looking back, she analyzed that all the angry outbursts were was because of depression that when they told her that her family had split up, she became super depressed. Oh, yeah, and made her really, really angry. So when she looks back, that's what she she sees. And as they say, trauma on Twitter will be trauma repeated. And that's what has been, I mean, with all of this. All in all the generations, there was just a lot of survivor survivor. So I read the comments of this article, and people were some people were upset that Oh, why is it that standard English is seen as speaking white, right? It's something I have like a double take on that. I can understand where she comes from with this, because I think she felt as if she had to erase her identity, who she is to be able to fit at that hair, she may meet on school, whereas it was like just speaking Standard English I imagined. And the other way around, is that if the community you come from, like, people want you to speak a certain way, but if you start speaking like proper English, or you speak in a different way, everyone tells you you're you're speaking white, you've changed, you're a sellout and things like that, then, you know, you don't want to stand out in that way. You don't want to stand out in that way. So I can understand all the pressures she was on the especially as a 13 1415 year old, it's, it's a bit too much, right? You, you're not old enough to know. I mean, like that the word the word had skirts, you know, you go to the workplace, if you speak like this, you're stigmatized, it's not fair. And even imposing code switching on people is is not fair. But you know, I see it, like, when I was even in Cameroon, in my village, code switched, you know, with my grandma who didn't speak any English where, you know, I spoke in a certain way with a woman on the street who, who sought Popoff I spoke Pidgin to her and any in classroom I made sure I didn't speak my my village language or because I don't like saying dialect, or pidgin English as bog standard English, because I would have been whipped if the teacher had heard me speaking all the other stuff he didn't want in his classroom. So we could switch anyway, somehow, right. But I think it's the shaming, it's hard, it's hard to be a first, it's hard to be the first in the family, you know, we're all about celebrating people being exceptional, or this person, you know, exceptionalism black excellence, it can be toxic in some way, being the first in the family to do this, it's very lonely, very, with a lot of anxiety, because there's, if you don't have mentors, or you know, someone to kind of understand your position as a first.

It can be a lonely thing. And then I think in capitalism, it becomes a tool to use to shame other people who don't make it, like, Oh, you see, if this person went through this, and that, you know, because they always put these stories on the news. In our city kid who has done these Ivy League and things, it's a way for capitalism, or the society we live in, to not take on the guilt of, of, of this intergenerational trauma that has been imposed in this family and you know, poverty, like starting from that great grandfather not establishing that strong boundary. You see that from one generation to another. It has followed this family even in Destiny's case, they were going from homeless shelter to homeless shelter to homeless shelter. And they took her they extracted her from her family to bring her to a different setting that she didn't recognize herself in. If you know child psychology a bit, you would know that uprooting someone at 13 years old is a very critical age. That's the age where people start like friendships start to matter a bit more. You know, people, it's all the social relationships or teenager start to matter. You don't want to be uploading some One at that age, right? Number two, this young woman her family was dear to her. Okay? It's not the best family she didn't receive much. Maybe in time when she's older she will look back and say I receive crumbs. But in that moment she needed that structure. Let imagine one minute if they had instead given her like half a hand her family an apartment like a safe apartment to live in. And where they have enough food and like they have this security where they have enough to eat and they have they live in a safe apartment where you know, they're not going to lose their home and moving from shelter to shelter to shelter for re at a move that much. I moved. Yeah, it's so destructive for a green child to have that insecurity of not having a safe home that is yours, always on the move, not knowing where you will learn. Yeah, that's, that's really not idea. Let's imagine for one minute, if they had instead helped her where she is where she feels comfortable, and brought her the tools, the therapy and the mentorship to thrive? I don't know maybe it would have worked maybe not I don't I'm not I'm not saying I'm just thinking how could we have done this differently as a society. You know, at one point, the stepdad when she's leaving the first time she's leaving to go to the school, he has tears in his eyes and he said he's much jealous of her that he would like to rewind it back again and go to school that he would go to school if he rewind it back. That's the thing you know, like, then she doesn't get the support she needs because you know, everybody's like when you're the exception of one and you're trying to stand out what the group wants to do is pull you back inside because it's safe the all of them just seem inadequate right and there are some self sabotaging or some sabotaging unconscious please unconscious sabotaging activity going on there were when she's, she's having these behavioral issues, the mom instead of trying to make her understand that she's going to lose everything, if she, if she keeps behaving like that she she's praising her that she fights like a man and things like that. So it's hard to be to extract yourself from the group, because it's kind of it's really kind of an alienation, you know, when you choose not to not to be like the group that created you that and that's everything, you know, you decide that you want to be something else you want to aspire to something else. And but you're hardwired in this, but you want to be this it's a very lonely place. And a lot of support is needed for that to happen. And also the fact that this young woman's father, left very left heavy and so her father was absent. And her step father and her mother were drug addicted. So

I just feel like the fact that she's tea here today she's fighting she's, I mean, it's a miracle given what like the cuts live of delta. That's what intergenerational trauma does. Addiction and and then it's, that becomes like when when you're lucky, and you become conscious of that is a problem, right? Then you can try to heal from that. But it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of work. I just want us to be conscious of these things. Because it's so easy to just go and blame this girl and say our she had a chance in the comments many people who said that she had a chance you should have used her chance. She couldn't see that. She couldn't wait two years to graduate there and then get the fund the endowment fund to go to university. And yeah, I just feel like when you're judgmental like that, it's because you haven't lived the high life, you know, with that kind of life. There's that episode I did about a sense of foreshortened future. So people they, they see normal people, they see their life they see like you go from point A to point B then you make these choices they bring you here you know, everybody tries to have a plan. And then sometimes the plan works out sometimes not sometimes our bumps in the way no problem. But in the case of this young woman when you're in such dire survival mode where you go from, you don't even have a home and this and you cannot even see past next week or next month or you know you don't own neck the next day. That's the thing you're you're you don't have this projection into the future where you can see how Things will play out for you favorably that all if I finish high school, then I will go do this and then I will do that. And you know, I don't know, it was just a lot of stuff, I think, should we should we process everything with time? I hope I wish her well, I wish her well. I just found the story fascinating because, yes, it's in America. And I mean, for my experience is happening in Cameroon. But I'm sure there are so many families like that in Cameroon, where from one generation to the next things don't get better. And then they just are these people, they are cursed. They cannot do anything better. But if you go see the dynamics of the car cards they've been dealt. Yeah, I mean, they just need help. That's all they need. Right? And, but for for help to happen. Someone has to be conscious, they have a problem. That's where some people say that trauma is an epidemic because when you don't know you cannot hear what you don't know you cannot hear what you're not conscious of. And I also believe that if you're in survivor mode, you don't you don't have that space to heal anything because you're surviving like you you're fighting to eat. You cannot you cannot be in the healing. Healing space. It's it's really too hard. Yeah. Anyways, I hope I didn't depress you too much with my episode. To end on a good note. She's still in university. So she's even despite it or she's still fighting to have a stand. Number two. This story is going to be published as a book, I think at the end of this month. So the book is called invisible child, subtitle poverty survivor on hope in an American city by Andrea Eliot. So it's the story of this young woman and assignee quotes I just kind of shared with you in this episode. So yeah. Well, that's it for today. See you next week for new adventures. Right. Bye bye

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